The daily business briefing: April 8, 2020

Harold Maass
A Tesla showroom
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

1.

Congress considers boosting loan program for small businesses

Congress could approve $250 billion more in aid for small businesses as early as this week as the federal government pushes to respond to overwhelming requests from companies trying to stay afloat through the coronavirus crisis. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday contacted top Democrats and Republicans to request the extra money to help small businesses get bank loans. The $2 trillion economic stimulus package already approved by lawmakers won't be enough to cover all of the immediate need, Republican and Democratic leaders have agreed. Members of Congress also are discussing another bailout package that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said could exceed $1 trillion. [The New York Times]

2.

Tesla furloughs non-essential employees, imposes temporary pay cuts

Tesla will furlough non-essential employees who can't work remotely, and reduce salaries as factories remain closed due to the coronavirus, the tech website Protocol reported on Tuesday, citing a leaked email sent to workers. The email said the furloughs will start Monday, and that the electric-car maker expects shuttered operations to return to normal on May 4, "barring any significant changes." Affected workers will still have their health-care benefits. The email said the moves were part of "a shared sacrifice across the company." All salaried employees will face temporary pay reductions. Top executives will see their pay reduced by 30 percent, while those at the level of director and above will lose 20 percent of their pay through the second quarter. [Protocol]

3.

Trump removes Pentagon watchdog leading coronavirus fund oversight

President Trump has removed the acting Pentagon inspector general, Glenn Fine, as head of the panel overseeing how the federal government's coronavirus relief package is spent. After Trump approved $2.2 trillion in federal spending, a panel of inspectors general from across Cabinet departments picked Fine as chair of the oversight panel, which was established to ensure that the bailout money was distributed and spent as intended. Trump ousted Fine from the department on Monday, thus removing him from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. A Pentagon spokesperson on Tuesday confirmed he was removed both from office and the committee. Trump designated EPA Inspector General Sean O'Donnell as the Pentagon's temporary IG and head of the accountability committee, and nominated Jason Abend, a senior policy adviser at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to fill Fine's Pentagon job. [Politico]

4.

Rice prices hit 7-year highs as pandemic triggers stockpiling

Rice prices have surged to seven-year highs as importers stocked up and exporters cut back on shipments of the staple due to the global coronavirus pandemic. The price of the industry's benchmark, the 5 percent broken white rice, rose by 12 percent from March 25 to April 1, the Thai Rice Exporters Association said Tuesday. Leading exporters India and Vietnam both face export disruptions due to the pandemic. That has raised expectations of stronger demand for Thai rice. Before the surge linked to the coronavirus outbreak, rice prices had already risen due to a severe drought in Thailand, as well as high demand from Asia and Africa. [Reuters]

5.

U.S. stocks remain volatile after Dow gives back 900-point rally

U.S. stock index futures were flat early Wednesday after Wall Street gave back huge early gains on Tuesday to close down slightly. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down by 26 points, or 0.1 percent, on Tuesday after being up at one point by more than 900 points, or 3.9 percent as the one-day coronavirus death toll in the U.S. and hot spots like New York hit record levels, while new infections showed signs of slowing in some hard-hit areas. "As [Tuesday's] stock market shows, volatility is likely to remain for some time," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at the Leuthold Group. Goldman Sachs chief equity strategist David Kostin warned that Wall Street's recent partial rebound could be a "bear market rally" in which hopes that markets have bottomed prove premature. [CNBC]